In memoriam

Private John Nicholl

 

 

The man on this page was probably the John William Nicholl born on 2 July 1894 at Mullycavan, Clones, County Fermanagh, the fourth of five children of farmer James Nicholl and his wife Jane (formerly Benson). His elderly father died in 1897 and his mother three years later. It appears that John and his siblings were brought up by relatives. In 1911 a John Nicholl, aged 15, was living with farmer Robert Nicholl and his family at Tullyard, County Tyrone, where he worked as an agricultural labourer.

Nicholl enlisted in the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron at Enniskillen in October 1914 (No.UD/47). He embarked for France with his squadron on 6 October 1915. At the time they were serving as divisional cavalry to the 36th (Ulster) Division.

In June 1916 the Inniskilling squadron came together with C and F Squadrons of the North Irish Horse to form the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to X Corps. Nicholl was wounded the following month in the early days of the Battle of the Somme. The Regimental diary for 5 July 1916 stated:

Orders were received from Assistant Provost Marshall 36th Division at 9am for the two troops dismounted to report to Captain O'Neill at Lancashire Dump for salvage duty. They carried out this duty, bringing in equipment, rifles etc till 1pm. The men had dinner and were just turning out again when Lieutenant Seymour received orders from 36th Division to return to Regimental Headquarters. The men had just started to saddle up when a heavy bombardment of both high explosive, shrapnel and machine guns was concentrated on the Wood. The intensity of the fire necessitated Lieutenant Seymour giving orders for the men to take shelter in some old dugouts and trenches close by. The bombardment lasted for three-quarters of an hour and then slackened but did not entirely stop. Up to now one horse was killed and four wounded. The men were then ordered to saddle up and lead their horses through Wood out on to the road and were waiting for the others to join up when the bombardment opened much heavier than previously, especially on that part of the road where the men were waiting. Lieutenant Seymour moved off up the road leaving 2nd Lieutenant Matthews and Sergeant McIlvoy to round up the stragglers in the wood, as by this time horses were very restive and almost unmanageable. Lieutenant Seymour with his party had reached about one mile along the road and turned down a lane leaving the horses in charge of Sergeant Quinn. Almost immediately a heavy fire was brought to bear on the horses and Sergeant Quinn was wounded. The horses stampeded in every direction, some back to Aveluy Wood. Eventually Lieutenant Seymour was able to round up most of this party and got to Senlis. [2nd] Lieutenant Matthews and Sergeant McIlroy remained behind. Our losses numbered sixteen horses killed or wounded and two missing. 2nd Lieutenant Matthews was wounded severely in the knee from high explosives and Privates Downes, Nicholl, Gourley wounded (hospital) and Privates Buchanan, 195 Campbell, Totton, 105 Craig, Corporal Dickson, 209 Robinson slightly wounded (duty).

Nicholl recovered from his wounds and returned to his squadron.

In August 1917 orders came that the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment would be dismounted and the men transferred to the infantry. Nicholl was one of 70 men given the job of conducting the regiment's horses to Egypt. They embarked from Marseilles on board HMT Bohemian on 25 August. After a month at Alexandria they returned to France, through Italy. On 5 October they arrived at the 36th (Ulster) Division Infantry Base Depot at Harfleur for infantry training.

After just a few days they were posted to the 9th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers – renamed the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion, joining it in the field at Ruyaulcourt on 12 October. Nicholl was issued regimental number 41611 and posted to C Company. He probably saw action with the battalion during the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917.

Nicholl was one of the many of the 9th Battalion listed as missing following the retreat from St Quentin from 21 to 28 March 1918 during the German spring offensive. In fact he had been captured near Nesle on 27 March. He died while a prisoner of war on 22 July 1918 in the Bavarian War Hospital, Hautmont, as a result of complications following an operation for tonsillitis.

Private Nicholl was buried at the Hautmont Communal Cemetery, Nord, France, grave V.B.10. The gravestone inscription reads:

41611 PRIVATE
J. NICHOLL
ROYAL IRISH FUSILIERS
22ND JULY 1918

 

Image kindly provided by Steve Rogers, Project Co-ordinator of the The War Graves Photographic Project, www.twgpp.org.